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Note: This review was published in August 2015 when the Add1Challenge was run by Brian Kwong. In August 2017, Fluent in 3 Months took over running the Add1Challenge and it is now called the Fluent in 3 Months Challenge.
Benny says: When I met Brian Kwong a few years ago and saw his immense enthusiasm, I was glad to see someone else so eagerly encouraging language learners. He surprised me further by putting his enthusiasm into practice and building a community where language learners support one another.
His Add1Challenge community is an excellent support network. Members give one another encouragement for speaking their target language.
Rather than have Brian talk about the community, I wanted to invite an active participant in the Add1Challenge to share everything involved. Here, Kevin Morehouse from Language Hero shares his experience with the community.
The central premise of the Add1Challenge is this: hold a 15 minute conversation in a new language after just 90 days of learning.
If the thought of a whirlwind sprint to the conversational finish line has you thinking twice, don’t worry. You’ll be taking on the task with dozens (perhaps hundreds!) of other language learners. Plus you’ll be part of one of the internet’s most vibrant and nuanced language learning communities t.
The Add1Challenge has rapidly become one of the most popular language learning tools on the web, and with good reason – it works!
The idea behind Add1Challenge was born from a presentation by language enthusiast Anthony Lauder.
In this presentation Lauder sought to boil down the quest to become a polyglot into a simple equation. To learn 10 languages you only have to follow two steps:
- Learn nine languages.
- Add one.
That’s one very difficult step, and one much easier one.
Want to learn eight languages?
Learn seven, then add one.
Following this logic, the easiest step towards becoming a polyglot always boils down to just adding one.
Brian Kwong attended this conference hot off the heels of his own successful three-month challenge in German. He heard Lauder’s words and was motivated to build a community where participants could support and inspire one another as they all attempted to learn a new language in 90 days.
With that, the Add1Challenge was born.
The Add1Challenge Gives You a Really Simple Mission
All participants in the Add1Challenge share one, singular goal:
Hold a fifteen minute conversation with a native speaker in 90 days.
How does the Add1Challenge help you achieve this goal?
Simple: Accountability and Community.
Accountability: You Can’t Quit When You’ve Got Friends Like These
The Add1Challenge holds you responsible for your learning. The entire challenge is structured so you can see your progress, share your experiences, and receive feedback.
Before you even start the challenge, you’ll meet the first line of accountability: the price tag. If you want to be part of the Add1 community, you’ll have to pay a registration fee. This is meant to separate the learners who are “on the fence” from those who are truly “all-in”. It makes participants more likely to stay committed to the community for the entire three months. As a bonus, Add1Challengers who complete their assigned tasks will have the opportunity to earn their money back (and more) in the form of prizes.
- At the start of the challenge, you pick one language to study for the entire 90-day period. Then, you must commit to how often you will study (days per week) and how long you will study (minutes per day). This is your non-negotiable study routine.
There are no official limits to how much or little studying you can do during the challenge, though the lower limit of days per week is typically four, and the lowest number of minutes per day is usually 30. The upper bound of the study routine is most often seven days a week at one hour per day, though recently I’ve seen a few challengers do two hours per day.
Here’s how it works:
- Every day, you will record your progress on the challenge-wide accountability tracker. If you meet your study goals for the day, you write “Yay!” If not, you write “Nay”.
- (Optional) Every week, you will check-in briefly with two small groups: your study group (challengers learning your target language) and your Mastermind group (random challengers).
- Every month, on Days 0, 30, and 60, you will submit a short video of yourself speaking in your target language.
- On day 91, you will submit your final video, where you will speak entirely in your target language with a native speaker for a minimum of 15 minutes.
Keep in mind, that the Add1Challenge team takes these requirements seriously. If you do not submit the required videos by their assigned deadlines, you will be removed from the Facebook group, without a refund.
Community: With the Add1Challenge, You’ll Never Walk Alone
At every turn, Add1Challengers are presented with opportunities to meet, interact, and learn with one another, including:
- The “Add1Challenge In Action” Facebook group: This is the primary hub for all Add1Challenge interactions. It is constantly bustling, with challengers posting their video submissions, asking questions, posting comments, and generally sharing their enthusiasm for all things related to language learning. If you’re in search of advice or feedback from a large variety of committed language learners from all walks of life, the official Add1Challenge Facebook group is the place to be.
- The Mastermind Groups: This is an optional feature of the Add1Challenge, but one I’d highly recommend checking out. If you join a Mastermind group, you will be given access to a private Facebook group along with several other randomly selected challengers. Since these groups are not language specific, these groups are great for discussing the more general challenges of language learning, such as motivation, time management, and study methods.
- The Study Groups: Another optional feature, the study group functions in the same manner as the mastermind group, except that you will only be paired with people that are studying your language of choice. Since you all share common linguistic ground, the possibilities here are nearly endless: you can chat exclusively in your target language, you can discuss grammar and vocabulary, you can share resources, recommend tutors, and even come up with activities to complete from week to week. Study groups are heavily encouraged to meet with one-another over Skype, as well.
- The “Burning Questions” Google Hangouts: This is one of the key features of the Add1Challenge that I believe separates it from other online language challenges: every month, challengers are given the opportunity to “pick the brains” of various established members of the polyglot community. This is a fantastic chance to share your struggles with heavily experienced language learners, and hear their thoughts on whatever challenges or doubts you may be going through as you learn. Questions are fielded either directly from Hangout participants (limited seating, get there early), from email submissions, or from questions posted within the official Add1Challenge Facebook group. Past “Burning Questions” polyglots have included Benny Lewis, Luca Lampariello, Judith Meyer, Richard Simcott, Olly Richards, and Conor Clyne.
- Assignments and Mini-Challenges: Throughout the challenge, members of the official Facebook group can participate in optional assignments and mini-challenges. Assignments usually require you to briefly write your experiences about a specific aspect of the challenge for others to see and comment on. Mini-Challenges are generally intensive two-week “sprints” that require you to do as much as you can of a specific task. Past challenges include writing target language sentences, logging speaking hours, and even joining the italki language challenge.
- Grand Prize Voting: Depending on the number of participants in any given challenge, the Add1Challenge team is able to award a free round-trip ticket to any target language destination of the winner’s choice. In the first round of voting, participants nominate one another, and often share stories about how much they’ve learned from or been inspired by other challengers over the course of the three months. The votes are then tallied, and the challengers with the most votes then go to the final round, where the winner is selected by Brian and a panel of expert polyglots.
- Many More Opportunities: The Add1Challenge is always evolving. With each new iteration, I’ve seen Brian and his team add more and more features aimed at helping you successfully achieve that 15-minute conversation on the challenge’s final day. Newer iterations have even included free language learning materials and a “language hacking” course.
My Experience with the Add1Challenge
Prior to joining the fifth Add1Challenge, I had had years of experience studying several languages in a variety of contexts. With my diverse experiences, I never expected the Add1Challenge to impact my learning style as much as it did. The Add1Challenge, with its daily YAY or NAY accountability tracker, gave me something I had never had before: a reason to show up every day.
I’ve taken classes, downloaded apps, and purchased tutoring sessions, but none of those things ever gave me a need to show up day in, day out, Sunday to Saturday. When I joined the Add1Challenge I suddenly felt like I was part of something bigger than myself. I had dozens of people walking the same path as I was, and I strongly felt the need to give the challenge my all, so I didn’t let them down.
For both of the challenges I’ve been a part of thus far, I’ve made the choice to learn for an hour every day. Depending on your circumstances, that may or may not be a viable option. But whatever you choose to do, I’m sure you will find that on those days when you’re not learning, you begin to miss it. You’ll miss typing in your YAY for the day, and filling in the little green box. You’ll find yourself inexplicably pulled towards building a chain of successive “yays”.
Once you’ve got a streak going, you’ll become protective of it, and your study routine will become an essential part of your day. Soon, as you watch your line of successes build alongside your fellow challengers, you’ll realize that you no longer have to actively think about whether or not you’re going to study. You just do it. At that point, language learning has become a habit.
Altogether, the interconnected elements of the Add1Challenge have helped me build a daily language habit and gain serious momentum in my studies. With each passing day (and each box checked) I got a little bit better at my language skills. Taken one day at a time, this progress might not seem like much, but over a three-month span, it meant I was light-years ahead of where I would have been with my choppy, inconsistent study habits that I had held previously.
For my first Add1Challenge, I took on French. My brief sojourn into the language during my university years yielded sub-par results. I saw the fifth Add1Challenge as an opportunity to finally make some headway into a language that I had always seen as opaque, despite my experience with other Latin-based tongues.
Make headway I did. One hour at a time, I took myself from a near-beginner in French on Day 1 almost all the way to the intermediate level on day 90. I didn’t do it alone, of course. I had the help of some excellent tutors, quality resources, and of course my group mates, who kept me learning and laughing with them all the way through. I enjoyed the process so much that I didn’t even miss one single day of my French studies. Where I first completed my daily routine out of obligation to myself and my fellow learners, I later completed it out of reflex. Learning French has become such a part of my life now that I give no thought to whether or not I’m going to put in my hour. I just find the time, and get it done.
This is not to say that the challenge was easy. Even if you build the language learning habit, your motivation will always tend to wax and wane. This is why I made sure I had a wide variety of learning activities to draw from—like reading non-fiction books, watching movies, listening to music, chatting with a tutor, and even pronunciation practice—that I could rotate through to make sure I never got bored enough to even consider giving up.
The Add1Challenge Gives You The Freedom to Learn Your Way
The Add1Challenge is great for language learners who need some basic structure in their learning efforts. At any given time, there are learning targets to be aimed at, fellow learners to check-in with, challenges to be completed, and videos to be made.
However, if you are looking for your hand to be held throughout the learning process, the challenge may not be for you.
Though you are expressly required to submit your four progress videos by certain deadlines, the Add1Challenge provides you with an incredible amount of freedom and flexibility in nearly every other area. In fact, I would go so far as to say the Add1Challenge leaves all of the important choices to the learner, including what language you’ll study, how often you’ll study, when you’ll study, and what materials you’ll study with.
Put simply, the Add1Challenge is a force multiplier. Every ounce of effort you apply to it will yield tons of rewards in terms of knowledge, skills, friendships, and more. If you use the Add1 ecosystem to your advantage, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more motivating environment in which to learn and grow.
Note, however, that since the Add1Challenge only multiplies your efforts, it cannot make something out of nothing. Just as you are free to choose your learning path, you will also be free to falter and fail. If you do not follow your plan, engage with the community, use the resources, and even ask for help when you need it, you will not attain the results you are looking for, challenge or not.
Is There Anything Not To Like?
The Add1Challenge’s greatest weaknesses are the unfortunate result of its greatest strength: people.
Where I’ve seen many challengers thrive and become standout members of the community, I’ve also seen others fade into the background, sometimes never to be heard from again.
For every study group or mastermind group full of dedicated, punctual, motivated learners, I’ve seen or heard of another that struggles due to poor participation, lack of direction, or time zone troubles. Learners of obscure or underrepresented languages even run the risk of having no one to form a study group with.
Each person has different ways of approaching the challenge, which means that levels of satisfaction can vary wildly. If you’re not fortunate enough to be paired with responsible, proactive learners, you may feel lost or out of place, and your opinion of the challenge will likely reflect that.
I believe that the above circumstances are merely the consequence of the Add1Challenge’s youthfulness. Having not yet hit its tenth installment, the Add1Challenge’s community and staff does not have the sheer numbers and infrastructure it would need to ensure that everyone has the guidance they need.
As the challenge grows in size and prominence, I would like to see much of this guiding infrastructure filled in. For mastermind and study groups, I envision an official “Add1 Action Plan” that will help groups decide how to effectively organize and carry out group meetings. For language newbies in need of direction, I would like to see one-on-one coaching, or even an “accountability buddy” system that pairs each new participant with an experienced Add1 veteran. I am also eager to see Add1’s community together in the real world, in the form of in-person meetup groups, parties, and even conferences.
I do believe the Add1Challenge is headed in this direction. But it is not there yet. For the Add1Challenge to be the best it can be, it needs one thing: you. Without you, and without more people like you, none of these things will be possible. So please: show up, take part, and show the world that you are up to the challenge of learning a language.
So What Are You Waiting For?
Whether you’re making your first foray into languages, or you’re a seasoned polyglot aiming to add one more to the pile–the Add1Challenge can’t be beat. Its community and depth of resources gives you the tools necessary to get started on the right foot, and the momentum to keep you coming back for more.
Head to Add1Challenge's site and sign up today.
About the author: Kevin Morehouse is a language coach and blogger who writes about language learning motivation and mindset at Language Hero.